EPA: Coal Plants Still #1 Source of U.S. Carbon Emissions

Guest Blog | February 27, 2013 | Climate Change, Coal, Energy Policy

There’s nothing like a heaping serving of data to really drive a point home – and that’s exactly what the Environmental Protection Agency does with its most recent report of plant-by-plant emissions data.  EPA’s 2011 Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program report is loaded with emissions data from 1,594 fossil fuel plants across the nation.  The resoundingly clear point made by this report is that fossil-fueled power plants are the primary contributors of carbon pollution in the United States, accounting for 67% of total national carbon emissions.  Although total 2011 power plant carbon emissions are down about 4.5% from 2010, due in part to a trend of relying on more natural gas generation, coal-fired power plants remain the primary contributors to our national carbon emissions. Here in the Southeast, we hold the dubious position of having 6 of the nation’s most carbon-polluting states, totaling over 456 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (also known as “CO2e” – explained below) emitted per year.

EPA’s monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions began in 2010, with the first reports submitted in September 2011.  EPA quantifies carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by combining both the actual CO2 emissions from a plant as well as emissions of so-called “carbon dioxide equivalents” or “CO2e”.  CO2e is a way to compare emissions among different greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential.  For example, methane (CH4) has a global warming potential of 23, meaning it has 23 times as much impact on global warming over 100 years as one metric ton of CO2.  Thus, one metric ton of methane has a CO2e of 23 metric tons.  Power plants report direct emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases under the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

The grand total of 2011 CO2e emissions from power plants was 2,221,000,000 metric tons – that’s more than 2 billion tons and equivalent to one year of emissions from 387,947,598 cars!!  Breaking it down further, power plants emitted 2.2 billion metric tons of CO2, 3 million metric tons of methane and 9 million metric tons of nitrous oxide (N2O).  To put this in perspective, the next highest emitters of CO2, petroleum and natural gas systems, only emitted 225 million tons of CO2e – that’s a difference of over 2 billion tons!!

In it’s blog about the report, the Natural Resources Defense Council outlined the top 20 carbon pollution-emitting states as well as highlighted the individual power plants that emit more than 10 million metric tons per year of CO2e.  Unfortunately for those of us living in the Southeast, 6 of the top 20 carbon polluting states are Southeastern states and we are home to 11 power plants that emit over 10 million metric tons of CO2e annually.

2011 Southeast State Rankings among Top 20 Carbon Pollution-Emitting States
(NOTE:  MMT stands for “million metric tons”; 1 metric ton = 1.10 ton)

 2.  Florida – 114 MMT
7.  Kentucky – 93 MMT
9.  Alabama – 77 MMT
11.  Georgia – 71 MMT
13.  North Carolina – 60 MMT
20.  Tennessee – 41 MMT

TOTAL CO2e emissions: 456 MMT

Coal Plants in Southeast with 2011 CO2e Emissions Above 10 Million Metric Tons
(NOTE:  Emissions amount have been rounded to the nearest MMT)

  • Robert W. Scherer Power Plant (GA) – Georgia Power – 22 MMT
  • Plant Bowen (GA) – Georgia Power – 15 MMT
  • Cross Generating Station (SC) – Santee Cooper – 14 MMT
  • Paradise Fossil Plant (KY) – Tennessee Valley Authority – 12 MMT
  • Cumberland Fossil Plant (TN) – Tennessee Valley Authority – 12 MMT
  • Ghent Generating Station (KY) – Kentucky Utilities Company – 12 MMT
  • Roxboro Steam Plant (NC) – Duke Energy – 11 MMT
  • Crystal River (FL) – Duke Energy – 11 MMT
  • EC Gaston Steam Plant (AL) – Southern Company – 11 MMT
  • Marshall Steam Station (NC) – Duke Energy – 11 MMT
  • Big Bend Power Station (FL) – TECO Energy – 10 MMT

TOTAL CO2e emissions from these Power Plants: 141 MMT

It’s clear that if we are ever going to address climate change as a nation, we have to do so by shutting down carbon intensive, coal-fired power plants and investing in clean energy alternatives, such as energy efficiency and renewable energy resources.  After President Obama’s State of the Union address, there is some hope that there will be significant steps to reduce carbon pollution in the United States during the President’s second term.  What types of steps those are and how successful they will be at reducing carbon pollution remains to be seen.  With the threats of climate change closing in on us – think Superstorm Sandy, shrinking arctic ice, sea level rise, drought, wildfires – EPA’s Greenhouse Gas 2011 emission report should serve as another wake up call that we must abandon dirty energy and embrace clean energy solutions before it’s too late.


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